Anyone observing the advance of the Marshall fire in Colorado, as many of us did from our homes, were stunned at the explosion of flames across Boulder County. We wondered “How could this happen here?” as likely more than $1 billion in damage was done and two people, along with hundreds of pets and other animals, were killed, in what seemed to be an instant.
With winds gusting over 100 mph, first responders focused on evacuating residents as quickly as possible. Their amazing efforts resulted in tens of thousands escaping safely. That outcome truly was extraordinary, if not miraculous.
With the reality that these types of previously rare events now are common, it is incumbent upon us to determine what we can do differently. A national panel of experts highlighted some of these issues in a two-part series I moderated (www.bit.ly/FiresAH).
In the case of several recent fires (i.e., the Marshall, Calwood, and East Troublesome fires), the local Fire Departments and the state of Colorado had products and resources available to them which, if deployed, could have dramatically reduced the devastation those fires wrought. Those products included “gels” which, when mixed with water, so greatly multiply the effectiveness of the final mix that it protects buildings and extinguishes fires. In essence, these products could transform the firefighting effectiveness of a gallon of water into that of 20 gallons.
The U.S. government and other countries know this, as does the Colorado Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology in the Colorado Department of Public Safety. It did an extensive examination of gels and concluded they often were the far superior option for fighting fires. Nevertheless, due to bureaucratic inertia, we frequently have failed to use them (www.bit.ly/FireTechCO).
The good news is these products are officially approved by state and federal governments for immediate use on the ground and in the air. They are extraordinarily effective, inexpensive, nontoxic, biodegradable, and ecofriendly — unlike many other products used.
One Colorado company produces a product distributed internationally named “FireIce.” A 60-second video demonstrates its extraordinary properties (www.bit.ly/FireIce1) while another short video intelligibly explains the technology (www.bit.ly/FireIce2).
This product creates a thermal barrier which protects buildings from temperatures over 5,000oF — far hotter than the temperatures at which our friends and neighbors’ homes and businesses were burning (+/-2,600oF). This was the only product California successfully used last summer to protect sequoia trees when they were threatened with fire. Structures in the path of a fire are likely to survive for up to 24 hours, if properly coated, so it is highly likely that, if these products are used in future events, they could stop the spread of fires and protect structures — even under extreme conditions.
Homeowners who coat their houses (using a hose and special pressure washer spray gun which mixes the gel solution) often can save their homes. Of course, this can require a half hour or more to complete but, even with a fast-moving fire, some homeowners had that time, while others had only minutes to flee.
By addressing the multiple, inexplicable failures of emergency agencies to use all available warning systems in the Marshall fire (nonsensically, one official actually said community siren alert systems were reserved only for “weather events”), when another fire occurs, residents could have significantly more time to respond.
The most severe part of the Marshall fire was not a “wildland fire.” Rather, it was an urban fire with one house igniting the next in line. Using FireIce, fire engines could have coated homes and businesses several blocks from the advancing fire — stopping the blaze in its tracks.
For the Marshall fire, Colorado firefighters had FireIce ready to go for the Single Engine Air Tanker on the tarmac at Broomfield’s Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport but the high winds made it impossible for any aircraft to fly. Unfortunately, the Fire Departments on the ground did not have their fire engines equipped with the product. From this day forward, it will be inexcusable if they are not better prepared.
We need to do everything we can to make certain our first responders have the best, most efficacious, safest, and cost-effective weapons to fight fires and save lives. With fire danger now a year-round reality, we need to act now.
Please contact your local officials, state and federal representatives, and community leaders to insist they arm our firefighters with the tools and products they need.
Unless our collective voices are heard today, we again will regret not taking advantage of proven solutions available to us.
Aaron Harber is host of “The Aaron Harber Show” (www.HarberTV.com/Info) and lives in unincoporated Boulder County.